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Urban Studies, Vol. 41, No.

9, 1789–1806, August 2004

Sexual Dissidence, Enterprise and Assimilation:


Bedfellows in Urban Regeneration

Alan Collins
[Paper first received, September 2003; in final form, February 2004]

Summary. This paper offers a pragmatic, principally economic perspective on the body of work
analysing the genesis and development of urban ‘gay villages’. The Soho Gay Village in central
London is presented as a case study. Its evolution and principal features are considered in the
light of the existing corpus of research into gay agglomerations and the documented experiences
of some other urban gay villages in England. It is suggested that, even with differing historical
roots and widely differing levels and forms of municipal support, a recurrent developmental
pattern seems to be discernible. This is characterised by an urban area in decline progressing
through several broad stages of economic enterprise denoted by: sexual and legal liminality; gay
male social and recreational opportunities; a widening service-sector business base; and, ulti-
mately, the assimilation of the area into the fashionable mainstream.

1. Introduction
There have been numerous contributions ex- prises and community within a city. These
pounding in social theoretical terms the link- spatial entities have been the subject of soci-
ages between sexuality or vice and urbanism ological, cultural, historical and geographical
(see—for example, Park and Burgess, 1925; scrutiny in North America, where some gay
Park, 1952; Castells, 1983; Knopp, villages have been discernible since at least
1994,1995; and Mort, 1996). This paper has the 1970s (Chauncey, 1995; Stryker and van
a much narrower focus and a different ana- Buskirk, 1996; Grube, 1997; Boyd, 2003), in
lytical framework. It adopts a pragmatic, continental Europe (Sibalis, 1999) and in
principally economic approach, drawing England (including, Quilley, 1997; Brown,
heavily on some of the logic of the ‘new 1997; Mort, 1998; Trumbach, 1999). In this
economic geography’ that has permeated paper, a principally economic case study of
contemporary economics. This study exam- the UK’s largest urban gay village in London
ines the 1980s and 1990s phenomenon of the is presented. Its evolution and development
emergence and development of the urban are considered with reference to the docu-
‘gay village’ in various cities across England. mented experiences of a number of other
The term ‘gay village’ possibly stems from significant (in terms of number of gay enter-
the earlier gay agglomeration present in prises) English urban gay villages. Retaining
Greenwich Village, New York, and describes this wholly English focus provides an albeit
a visible physical clustering of gay enter- imperfect means of controlling for some
Alan Collins is in the Department of Economics, Portsmouth Business School, University of Portsmouth, Richmond Building,
Portland Street, Portsmouth, PO1 3DE, UK. Fax: 02392 844 037. E-mail: alan.Collins@port.ac.uk. The author is grateful to
anonymous referees and Ronan Paddison for constructive comments, to all those who agreed to be interviewed for relaying their
valuable experiences and insights, to Bill Johnson for assistance with the map and also to Samuel Cameron, Stephen Drinkwater
and Derek Leslie for advice on specific technical matters. The usual caveat applies.
0042-0980 Print/1360-063X On-line/04/091789–18 © 2004 The Editors of Urban Studies
DOI: 10.1080/0042098042000243156
1790 ALAN COLLINS

cross-cultural factors that may influence ur- California, is perceived as a city where being
ban gay village development. In this limited gay is accepted and celebrated and thus is
way, an attempt is made to identify any home to a disproportionately large gay popu-
commonalities and points of contrast in their lation. Working from the perspective of pure
evolution and development. rational choice economics and using data
In attempting to discern the key features of from the US census in 1990, Black et al.
the urban gay village phenomenon in Eng- (2002) sought to advance a simple economic
land, the paper necessarily reflects on the explanation, primarily to serve as the basis
reasons for their genesis in those particular for a model to predict the spatial distribution
urban locations and the economic develop- of gay households across the US.1 In the
ment and urban planning issues that may context of the San Francisco example, the
arise with regard to the future dynamics of explanation proceeds as follows. The city is
these areas and with regard to other nascent physically one of the most attractive in the
or potential gay villages in other English US with a pleasant mild climate, a splendid
locations. Drawing on various bodies of evi- range of restaurants and a diverse and vibrant
dence, ranging from field visits, local histor- arts and entertainment community. The city
ies, public health orientated surveys, local thus forms a high-amenity location, where
authority documentation and a series of inter- valued amenities are capitalised into the he-
views with local planning officers across a donic rent/property price gradient and/or
number of English cities and gay business wage gradient—i.e. in equilibrium, house-
managers and entrepreneurs, arguments for holds pay for these amenities via higher
the existence of a seemingly recurrent model property (rental) prices and maybe also lower
wages. Since gay households face constraints
of gay-led urban and economic regeneration
that make bringing up children more costly
are advanced.
for them than ‘straight’ (heterosexual) house-
The paper is organised in the following
holds, this reduces their lifetime demand for
manner. In section 2, the theoretical argu-
housing resources but frees up resources for
ments advanced in connection with gay ag-
reallocation to more amenity-focused con-
glomerations and gay villages are explored.
sumption. Accordingly, Black et al. (2002)
The following section presents a reference show that gay men may be observed to sort
case study of the gay village in London’s disproportionately into higher-amenity loca-
Soho which extends into other parts of Lon- tions with further econometric evidence sug-
don’s West End. In section 4, a simple model gesting that measures of local amenities
is advanced of urban gay village develop- predict gay location choice more strongly
ment. Concluding remarks are offered in the than measures of ‘gay friendliness’.2
final section. In terms of an English focus, the thesis of
Black et al. (2002) could be seen as con-
2. Genesis and Development of Urban Gay tributing to a very plausible explanation as to
Villages: Theoretical Arguments why the resort city of Brighton and Hove in
Sussex, on the south coast of England, with
At a geographical scale of resolution some- its urban gay village of Kemptown, has de-
what broader than the sub-city level of urban veloped as a leading gay magnet. Yet, it is
gay villages, accounting for why certain lo- perhaps less useful in fully accounting for the
cations have an unusually large gay male or early genesis of urban gay villages in—for
lesbian community has been the subject of example, Newcastle’s ‘pink triangle’ (Pubs-
recent research attention. For example, in the Newcastle, 2003) or the Hurst Street area of
context of the US, Murray (1996), amongst Birmingham (Marketing Birmingham, 2002).
others, highlights the notion that a key driver Indeed, in the broader English context, it is
of a gay male’s residential choice is the perhaps worth considering how comprehen-
nature of a city’s social and political views sive and generalisable is such an explanation.
towards gays. Accordingly, San Francisco, In the UK context it is, arguably, too heavily
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1791

reliant on high amenity-focused consump- full emergence of the gay village. Gradually
tion. Remaining broadly consistent with the over time and in the wake of a small existing
econometric work of Black et al. (2002), one service-sector-based commercial foothold,
might still reasonably argue that high levels the benefits of relatively cheap premises and
of amenities are not an absolutely necessary land values could be exploited with addi-
pre-requisite for high lesbian/gay population tional injections of lesbian/gay-focused en-
densities, but their presence is certainly trepreneurial effort. This has resulted in these
likely to help facilitate the ‘take-off’, or race, leisure/retail market needs being met more
to a gay population critical mass. Once at- directly by the 21 service-sector enterprises3
tained, this is then sufficient to provide a that currently give shape and focus to their
virtuous circle where high lesbian/gay house- urban gay village, which also claims to be
hold densities and/or gay commercial zones the third-largest gay tourist destination in
become self-sustaining. They may be self- England (Marketing Birmingham, 2002). In-
sustaining because a gay population beyond evitably, this widening service-sector base
the critical threshold (a large concentration and growing gay community profile has at-
of sexual like-mindedness) may be viewed as tracted other, particularly Midlands-based,
offering high amenity value in its own right, lesbians and gay men (households and en-
with club good characteristics (Buchanan, trepreneurs) to live and work in the city, or at
1965). Arguably, the congestion limit for this least within a travel-to-leisure, or social com-
club good could be extremely high. Indeed, if muting distance of it.
the gay population density rose to approach It is also a salient feature to note that,
100 per cent in the gay village, it is possible while the econometric findings of Black et
that many gay men might not actually en- al. (2002) provide a strong and convincing
counter a region of diminishing returns at all. body of evidence for why gay men now live
Such a ‘critical gay population size’ fo- or aspire to live in San Francisco, they do not
cused perspective might thus be more useful help to explain why the location of San
in explaining—for example, the early genesis Francisco developed as a gay magnet in the
of the Birmingham Gay Village centred first place, compared with some other ‘high
around Hurst Street, Birmingham, in Eng- amenity’ US cities that did not. Black et al.
land. In contrast to the Castro Street area in (2002) dismiss this as an ‘historical accident’
San Francisco, this gay village emerged in a and sought to distinguish the economic argu-
city at the heart of an urban-industrial conur- ment from historical and sociological per-
bation, with an unremarkable but temperate spectives on individual gay residential
climate, and a decidedly inland, off-city-cen- choices. Indeed, they cite the work of
tre location. At the time, this location was D’Emilio (1989) in describing the triggering,
certainly not renowned for its aesthetic quali- causal role of discharged gay US Navy
ties, or diverse range of amenities, of any sailors based in the San Francisco area decid-
obvious particular appeal to lesbians and gay ing to remain living there.
men. The site of the gay village was a run- In contrast to Black et al. (2002), this
down small craft and industrial factory/ware- study finds and considers an economic argu-
house district with some pubs and a few ment within these historical accidents, or se-
shabby shop premises. Perhaps more simply, ries of historical accidents. Further, this
as the main city of the UK Midlands conur- study also suggests that the economic dimen-
bation, it had, and continues to have, a very sion or economic significance of these his-
large population. Accordingly, it must there- torical accidents helps the better tracing of a
fore contain a large number of lesbian and path in the evolution of gay villages that may
gay individuals/households. Arguably these be observed in the contemporary urban land-
individuals/households had many leisure/re- scape of England. That there are significant
tail market needs that were relatively latent, economic forces linked to such historical
or to varying degrees suppressed, prior to the accidents has been an emerging theme in the
1792 ALAN COLLINS

‘new economic geography’ that has entered can be conceived of as the spontaneous over-
the corpus of contemporary economics. For all outcome of a large number of free-market
example, in a consideration of why Santa atomistic interactions among gay and hetero-
Clara County in California has become a sexual households. While one might suspect
favoured location for many firms in the mi- fewer constraints to residential mobility
croelectronics and software industries, Krug- among gay men/households, such segre-
man notes that gation could conceivably also arise, in part,
from the preferences of some heterosexual
like most such agglomerations, Silicon
households to move to locations of more
Valley owes its existence to small histori-
uniformly heterosexual character.
cal accidents that, occurring at the right
Turning to discontinuous change, it is
time, set in motion a cumulative process of
reasonable to posit that, with the growth of
self-reinforcing growth (Krugman, 1997,
new urban sub-centres and with a constant or
p. 239).
increasing percentage of lesbian/gay male
Switching the focus back to gay residential households, there must exist a critical mass
choice, one might thus contend that an initial (or in the language of Garreau, 1991, ‘a point
cluster or agglomeration of gay households of spontaneous combustion’) at a particular
and gay amenities will naturally attract more population/city size that is sufficient to foster
and more gay men. This cumulative self-re- and sustain higher-order gay amenities such
inforcing growth (inward migration) in- as gay nightclubs, gay hotels, gay gyms and
evitably helps further to shape the emergence gay sauna/health clubs. This causes ‘second-
of a spatial structure featuring urban gay ary explosions’ as businesses form or move
villages or districts. to the location (gay plumbers, gay carpen-
Considering the development of urban gay ters, gay cleaners, gay accountants, gay law
villages from the vantage-point of the new practices, etc.) to serve the gay businesses
economic geography, it is relatively easy to and the large gay population already there.
translate its key pillars as identified by Krug- Such critical mass economic behaviour could
man (1997), of path dependence, self-organ- be mathematically formalised in terms of the
isation and discontinuous change, into standard economic base-multiplier model of
circumstances which would lead and shape traditional regional science or regional econ-
the development of gay districts in a particu- omic analysis, but augmented with increas-
lar location. Following the pure logic of ing returns to scale (Pred, 1977).
Schelling’s segregation model (Schelling, Evidence for such ‘secondary explosions’
1971, 1978), it may be observed that in terms manifest in terms of the existence of gay
of path-dependence, individual microeco- community-orientated enterprises, may be
nomic or microsocial decisions such as the readily found in the classified pages of the
opening of a gay-friendly bar or a gay night- national and local gay press (Pink Paper,
club in a particular city district, for whatever Gay Times, Boyz, QX, Gscene, etc.). It might
reason (such as low rents, the opportunity of seem strange to a world of heterosexual con-
vacant commercial premises in near-central sumers why gay businesses or households
locations, entrepreneur’s personal taste), can might prefer the services of an explicitly gay
direct and help to shape the future course of plumber to one who is not explicitly gay. In
broader macrobehavioural outcomes. Such part, it may be gay community camaraderie,
outcomes might relate to the future residen- but there are also more functional possible
tial locational clustering of gay men already reasons relating to deliberately minimising
in the city and gay men migrating to the city. the likelihood of encountering homophobic
In terms of self-organisation, lesbians and behaviour, especially when inside gay-owned
gay men are not required to cluster and settle homes/businesses. Further, it also assists in
around gay agglomerations of services. Yet minimising the effort associated with the
such relatively large-scale observed ordering pressure to ‘de-gay’ homes or premises to
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1793

Table 1. Experiences of discrimination, abuse and violence against gay men in England (percentages)
(N ⫽ 14 632)

Experience in the past 12 months No Yes

Experienced discrimination while using bars and restaurants 93.3 6.7


Experienced discrimination while shopping 95.1 4.9
Experienced discrimination while dealing with tradespeople and business 95.4 4.6
services
Experienced discrimination with workmates and colleagues 86.6 13.4
Experienced discrimination with strangers in public 74.2 25.8
Experienced verbal abuse because of sexuality 65.7 34.3
Experienced physical attacks because of sexuality 92.9 7.1

Source: Sigma Research (2003).

make heterosexual persons more at ease. For more cosmopolitan cities, where assaults still
some geographers, these phenomena have do take place, but where there can be a
been described as examples of the intrusion greater sense of safety in numbers.
of heteropatriarchy, which they have ob- It is worth emphasising that the founding
served as characterising most social space, gay amenities and the subsequent ‘secondary
even gay social space (Johnston and Valen- explosions’ of gay community orientated
tine, 1995; Bell, 1995; Kirby and Hay, 1997). businesses are typically elements in a widen-
Evidence that there may be some rational, ing service-sector base. It is these services
self-defensive basis for such gay community that act as a magnet to gay households, since
orientated business preferences, by gay men they provide a means for helping to sustain
in the UK, can be found in the National Gay the defining features of an ‘out’ gay lifestyle.
Men’s Sex Survey 2002 (Sigma Research, The movement of (young) gay men to an
2003). Selected results are presented in Table often-distant and large urban metropolis of-
1. They suggest that the scale of discrimi- fers greater scope for the more explicit ex-
nation in ordinary commercial environments ploration of their sexuality with virtually
is not trivial, although lower when they typi- complete anonymity if desired. In this en-
cally relate to such situations where it would vironment, they are typically remote from the
be difficult to discern homosexuality in the social controls exerted by family and home
course of a relatively swift transaction. This communities (Cameron and Collins, 2000).
might become more apparent in the home or This is important since part of the motivation
business environment of a gay man wary of for such migration can be linked to the nature
a stranger’s disposition to gay men (recalling and extent of social disapproval from their
that 25.8 per cent of gay men had experi- domestic roots. Such migrants can easily dis-
enced discrimination by strangers in public cern and participate in the social and rec-
in the past 12 months). It is certainly more reational opportunities afforded by the
apparent for gay men where others have commercial centres of these gay village ar-
much more time to discern sexuality, such as eas.
in the work environment (where 13.4 per For a number of relatively mature urban
cent of the sample had experienced discrimi- gay village areas, they could be said to have
nation in the past 12 months). The figures are thrived to such an extent that they have
also relatively high for verbal abuse and become the chic social and cultural centres of
physical assault across England. Of course, the city—the place to be seen, not just within
these figures do mask variations between a loyal and relatively recession-resistant gay
small county towns with isolated gay pubs or customer base, but regardless of one’s sexual
club nights and larger urban gay villages in preferences. Indeed, in the same manner as
1794 ALAN COLLINS

ethnically defined commercial enclaves or in the UK, as elsewhere, has become inter-
zones (for example, Chinatown, Manchester woven with debates raging over the process
and London) provide all visitors and local of urban regeneration, renaissance and gen-
residents with option value and direct trification. For the case study area under
benefits from a more diverse range of con- focus and various other principal English
sumption opportunities (retailing, entertain- urban gay villages (in Manchester, Brighton
ment and gastronomy), gay villages clearly and Birmingham), the open and visible
do likewise. As examples, one may point to emergence of their clustering of gay service-
the gay bars, clubs, shops and restaurants in sector enterprises, even to the eyes of their
London’s Soho, Manchester’s Canal Street heterosexual populations (not just the les-
and Brighton’s Kemptown. Their overall bian/gay cognoscenti), is uniformly a feature
customer base is not exclusively lesbian or of the 1980s and 1990s. To provide a more
gay. In the context of Canal Street, in par- nuanced account of Soho’s route, to what is
ticular, it has been reported and voiced in the argued to be an ultimately convergent devel-
gay community that the area is increasingly opment path with the other urban gay vil-
becoming ‘too straight’. These concerns have lages, some brief prefacing consideration of
become so common and rehearsed that they its historical evolution is also presented.
have even been featured in dramatic repre-
sentations of gay life in Manchester, such as
Beginnings
the Channel 4 television drama series Queer
as Folk. Canal Street has now become well Aside from its capital city status, London is
known as a safe zone for heterosexual a world city such that its resident and visitor
women to socialise in, such that heterosexual population actually sustains a number of ma-
men now also use this social space in pursuit ture and nascent satellite gay clusters of ser-
of heterosexual women. Inevitably, this vice-sector enterprises in the north, south,
raises the amount of search effort required east and west of London.4 During the course
for gay men and women to find potential of the 1970s and early 1980s, what could be
partners, since they increasingly now have to said to be the principal gay centre of London,
filter out more heterosexual individuals from in terms of number of establishments, com-
the search pool, and also it may lead to some prised a handful of fairly low-profile (in
changes in the sexual ambience and sense of mainstream heterosexual society terms) pubs
personal safety in the area (Whittle, 1994). In and clubs in the Earls Court area of West
this way, assimilation of gay social space London. The pre-eminence of this small clus-
into the fashionable socio-sexual mainstream tering was easily displaced during the course
advances, but may feature, along the way, of the mid 1980s and early 1990s, such that
varying degrees of resentment from some central London’s Soho now reigns as the
quarters of the gay community that would largest gay cluster in the metropolis and the
prefer to retain more sexually exclusive so- UK. It is currently based around Old Comp-
cial space. ton Street (see Figure 1) but significantly
extends into surrounding streets and squares
and other parts of the ‘West End’ of central
3. Evolution of Soho Gay Village, London
London in walkable proximity, such as
While the ‘new economic geography’ can Covent Garden and the Strand.
provide a rationale for the emergence and Given the long history of gay cultural and
expansion of these gay agglomerations, it sexual entertainment enterprises in London
does not describe the physical process of since at least the late 17th century (Norton,
urban change required to accommodate the 1992; Trumbach, 1999), it would seem un-
presence and evolving identity of a gay vil- surprising if their were a continuous cluster-
lage/district. Inevitably, the recent physical ing or presence of gay enterprises in Soho till
evolution of recognisable urban gay villages the present day. However, there is no such
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1795

Figure 1. The Soho district, central London.

clear evidence for this. There may well have accepted wisdom that seems to emerge from
been gay enterprises such as the infamous these historical investigations is that there
‘molly houses’ in the area in the 18th cen- were probably more gay bars and gay broth-
tury, as there were many such establishments els spread across London in the mid 18th
spread across London.5 These were, how- century than existed in the 1950s.
ever, closed down in various episodic moral The area of Soho was hunting ground at
panics and clamp-downs (Norton, 1992). The least from the middle ages through to the
1796 ALAN COLLINS

17th century, used by royalty and other aris- 18th century) relates to Hoopers Hotel
tocrats.6 Following a perceived need to al- (known for heterosexual brothel services) on
leviate central London overcrowding and Soho Square and also a continuous presence
provide safer, fairly central greenfield devel- of primarily street-based sex workers, right
opment land in the aftermath of the Great through until the late 1950s (Farson, 1993;
Fire of London in 1666, Soho was subjected Vinyl-Junkies, 2003). The 1959 Street Of-
to rapid urban development. The lay-out of fences Act, however, featured legislation to
streets and squares which, in the main, still curb soliciting for prostitution and introduced
survive, was devised by Gregory King, an serious penalties for so doing. Consequently,
eminent engraver, genealogist, statistician the already significant stock of off-street
and urban planner. The area still had some prostitution-related premises in nearby up-
cachet arising from its royal/aristocratic per-floor flats began to increase further
hunting associations. Hence, it became a through the 1960s and 1970s. Alongside this
fashionable residential district for the aristoc- came an increase in all the associated com-
racy and wealthy in the 1670s and 1680s mercial sex paraphernalia of red lights,
(Summers, 1991; Hub Communications, ‘models’ business cards near ground-level
2003; Vinyl-Junkies, 2003). Given the area doorbells and telephone-booth postcard ad-
had available space, and some large proper- vertisements. Soho thus became the home to
ties to accommodate craft industries, in the numerous ‘clip joints’7 and illegal brothels,
early 18th century, Soho attracted consider- whose ownership (often subject to bloody
able influxes of new settlers from continental gang turf wars) or ‘protection’ typically lay
Europe. Many of these were refugees escap- with Italian and Maltese mafias and other
ing persecution, including Greeks (hence, local criminal gangs.8 The area was generally
Greek Street in Soho) and French Huguenots perceived through countless media and popu-
avoiding, respectively, Ottoman persecution lar cultural images as seedy, shabby and
and Louis XIV’s reign. Predictably, these clouded in a haze of sexual and legal liminal-
influxes of refugees and craft industry led the ity. Riding on this sense of liminality (and
aristocrats and ‘old money’ wealthy, over concomitant lower property prices/rents) in
time, to leave Soho to seek out and establish the 1950s and 1960s, the area became a
newly fashionable and exclusive residential magnet for a number of artistic or bohemian
areas, such as Mayfair (Summers 1991). De- individuals, who settled in Soho (Farson,
spite the emergence of some nearby slum 1993; Fryer, 1998). Hence, in due course, the
housing, Soho became through the 18th and area also saw the beginnings of more bo-
19th centuries a thriving commercial centre hemian and avant-garde cultural enterprises
renowned over various times for its doctors, emerging. (Examples include Ronnie Scott’s
lawyers’ practices, tailoring, artists (Farson, jazz club (Fordham, 1996) and Peter Cooke’s
1993) and the first London showroom of the “Establishment Club” (a satirical comedy
celebrated industrialist and ceramicist Josiah and revue club) (Thompson, 1997; Carpen-
Wedgwood (Summers, 1991; Vinyl-Junkies, ter, 2000).) The area had underground cul-
2003). tural cachet which erupted via the popular
media in the 1960s into a significant, but
ultimately short-lived, musical, cultural and
Sex, Soho and Culture
fashion wave, centred around enterprises in
Alongside the thriving legitimate industry Carnaby Street in west Soho.
also emerged the beginnings of the sex in- Further, following the media glare of Lon-
dustry, which ultimately came to dominate don’s Metropolitan Police Vice Squad and
the actual and perceived popular character of Obscene Publications Squad corruption
Soho from the late 1950s (Walford, 1987; charges (where many officers were found to
Farson, 1993) to the mid to late 1980s. The be running vice and porn protection rackets),
earliest documented presence (in the early the revoking of many commercial licences in
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1797

the early to mid 1980s crackdown on the sex posed to area-based planned development
and retail pornography industry and, from the outset).
alongside, the beginnings of more private Gay entrepreneurs and households were
and discreet sex-based e-commerce, there conveniently present at that time as an under-
was a major contraction in the number of exploited market niche, who were unlikely to
Soho commercial and residential premises be deterred by the pervading social stigma of
used by this sector.9 The area had declined living, operating businesses and providing a
further until, in the mid 1980s, it was a customer base, in an area whose very name
relatively run-down central urban area, at that time was dripping with connotations
tainted with a long-standing reputation for of sexual illicitness and danger. Partly, this
vice and crime and with its past glories from could be explained in terms of the general
its role in the 1960s London cultural van- backdrop of liminality that was already a
guard, fast fading in the public conscious- feature of the lives of most lesbians and gay
ness. men (before and even after decriminalisation
of homosexual activity between two consent-
ing adult males over 21 years of age in the
Village People, Enterprise and Village Com-
1967 Homosexual Law Reform Act). This
munity
was especially so in the mid to late 1980s
Of crucial importance for the emergence of where there was a heightened sense of lesbi-
the Soho Gay Village, was the fact that there ans and gay men in particular, being further
was already a small presence of gay pubs (or dispatched towards and beyond the margins
parts of pubs) in Soho itself and the ‘West of social and sexual acceptability. It is im-
End’ of central London, serving its Theatre- portant to recall that, at the time, the Con-
land.10 Thus, the development of this urban servative government of the UK was
gay village was not actually taking place on pressing for more ‘traditional family values’
a completely blank canvas. While Binnie orientated policies, which militated against
(1995) seems to consider the Soho Gay Vil- gay lifestyles; pressurising local government
lage to have actually emerged in 1991 with authorities (especially what were termed by
the opening of the café bar called Village press and right-leaning politicians as ‘loony
Soho, this author disputes the historical left London boroughs’) to restrict or curtail
definitiveness of that assertion. There were policies and schemes that treated lesbian/gay
many earlier establishments existing in Soho households and lifestyles with equanimity
and the West End in the 1980s (not exclu- (the introduction of Section 28 in the 1988
sively centred on Old Compton Street as Local Government Act being one example);
now). While not collectively then branded and, conveniently acquiescing in the wake of
(commercially and informally) as a gay vil- the tabloid press whipped up hysteria that
lage, nevertheless, they were already then recast the HIV/AIDS epidemic into the ‘gay
beginning to gel, through walkable proxim- plague’.
ity, into such a phenomenon. The relevant local planning authority
From a very small existing commercial (Westminster City Council) has never had
foothold, substantial expansion could be any special policy area status, formal or in-
made, in large part, because it was con- formal, of any kind for a ‘gay village’. The
veniently helped by the contraction of the sex sobriquet ‘Soho Gay Village’ does not fea-
and porn industry—a valuable historical ac- ture in any Westminster planning/local econ-
cident in the Krugman (1997) sense. As more omic development documentation. That said,
commercial premises became available from there is some ambiguous reference in the
the mid 1980s and into the 1990s, more gay Pre-inquiry Unitary Development Plan of the
service-sector enterprises became manifest City of Westminster (dated 29 August 2002)
via a seemingly ad hoc, organic and gradu- to the fact that Soho is a “vibrant and cosmo-
ally accelerating incremental process (as op- politan area” (p. 5). This may (and only
1798 ALAN COLLINS

may), in part, be suggestive of the presence culated that, in August 2003, only taking into
of a large cluster of gay enterprises and its account explicitly gay nightclub venues, gay
role as a focal point for the London gay pubs/bars and gay cafés/restaurants in the
community. Soho Gay Village (including some adjacent
Westminster Council’s seemingly more streets/squares), 56 such enterprises could be
ambivalent stance in this direction is some- found in short walking distance of each
what surprising, given the gay village’s com- other.
mercial vitality, tourism significance and the The increasing trading vitality and aes-
authority’s explicit recognition of ethnically thetic improvements, linked to the develop-
defined clusters. Based on detailed inspection ment of an urban gay village in such a central
of available public documentation, it is read- London location, has of course meant that it
ily clear that the adjacent London ‘China- has formed part of the spectrum of leisure
town’, centred on Gerrard Street has options for all London residents and visitors.
consistently attracted significant formal and Witnessing its success with both gay and
explicit attention from the Conservative straight consumers, the Soho Gay Village has
Party-led Westminster Council authority (for laid the foundations for the secondary growth
example, Westminster City Council, 2002, of a large number of other bars/cafés/restau-
2003). It has even appointed a Chinese Com- rants in its wake, that are not gay-run or
munity Liaison Officer to oversee matters gay-owned and which are targeted princi-
impacting on this community. Planning per- pally towards more homosexuality-tolerant,
mission and change-of-use matters (for legit- fashionable young singles, or just the main-
imate businesses), helping the development stream heterosexual market.
of the Soho Gay Village, however, do seem While there has always been a sizeable,
to have been considered wholly on their indi- principally apartment dwelling, residential
vidual merits, but irrespective of their poten- community in Soho, throughout the course of
tial consistency with, and contribution to, the 19th and 20th centuries, the construction
any gay village identity. of an increasingly stronger gay presence and
These gay enterprises continue to provide identity did lead to a 1980s and 1990s influx
services principally geared to supporting gay of gay households in Soho. Understandably,
male social and recreational activities, in- this could not be sustainable unless gay
cluding: gay pubs/bars (typically gay-run but households rarely moved and never sold their
not necessarily gay-owned, as breweries property to non-gay households, or the
rightly appreciated the potential of the grow- highest bidder irrespective of sexuality. As a
ing gay market), cafés, restaurants, fetish- fashionable central London location of po-
wear retailers, gay accessory stores, tential interest to all, regardless of sexuality,
nightclubs, gyms, saunas (in premises on the and with several gated and secure new resi-
margins of Covent Garden), gay escorts (us- dential developments emerging to capitalise
ing rented central Soho apartments) and on its location and fashionable lifestyle desir-
other gay-focused businesses and pro- ability, property prices and rentals have in-
fessional practices. They have emerged to creased markedly, even by London
trade in close proximity and shape the widen- standards. This ensures income and wealth
ing service-sector base that characterises the now ultimately conditions the dynamics of
commercial foundations of the contemporary the contemporary residential character of
Soho Gay Village. In terms of scale, from a Soho and presents constraints on the lesbian/
schedule of personal visits and using the gay residential population density. This is not
address and postcode information in the Gay to say that the Soho Gay Village is ultimately
to Z Directory (Issue 12, 2003) (cross-refer- likely to be displaced as the principal gay
encing with other London free gay publica- cluster in London and the UK. It is not, since
tions further to corroborate and discern the presence of upwards of 56 gay enter-
explicit gay focus or ownership), it was cal- prises demonstrates clearly it has never really
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1799

relied on just Soho residents (estimated to and capital over time). It is true that the
comprise approximately 6000 individuals residential character of London’s Soho is
(Soho Society, 2001) as its significant cus- likely to have changed as prices/rents have
tomer base. It has long been reliant on the risen. There may well be fewer lesbian/gay
wider London gay population, since Lon- households now than in the late 1980s or
doners enjoy an extensive travel-to-leisure early 1990s, as the wider desirability of the
area facilitated by London’s dense tube, train now-fashionable Soho area has added its
and bus network. force to the housing market. Yet, in terms of
For some geographers, the urban renais- the commercial landscape, there seems to be
sance of the Soho area, alongside the munici- a large, dynamic and sustainable body of gay
pal and police actions to induce contraction service-sector enterprises that are likely to
of the sex industry, provides indicative evi- dominate the area for the foreseeable future.
dence of a ‘revanchist’ (Smith, 1996) city In the light of the outcome that is the Soho
agenda (Hubbard, 2004). By this is meant a Gay Village, perhaps the urban renaissance
process of urban change, whereby a White process could more accurately be described
(heterosexual) middle-class ‘conspiracy’ sup- as the harnessing of the convenient presence
ported by municipal political power and con- of essentially class-blind, ethnicity-blind, but
siderable capital resources, literally ‘takes gay-sourced capital and entrepreneurial ef-
revenge’ and reappropriates urban space fort, of sufficient scale to be able to exploit
back into the White middle-class (heterosex- the commercial space made available by the
ual) sphere of interest.11 Even ignoring the diminishing physical presence of the sex and
role of e-commerce, as a booming substitute porn industry. The feature of London’s gay
channel, in the spatial diminution of the com- managed capital and entrepreneurial effort
mercial sex and porn industry, such an argu- driving an urban renaissance process, at least
ment neglects the fact that the engine of this in the early stages, seems to be more consist-
renaissance was not a direct municipally sup- ent with an interpretation of Lees’ (2000)
ported initiative and was not entirely re- emancipatory city thesis. This suggests a par-
sourced in its early genesis with wider ticular path of urban regeneration and renais-
middle-class society’s capital. It is true that sance. In essence, it could be characterised as
there was and continues to be, concerted a process whereby people become united in
action by Westminster Council and the the central area of a city and create opportu-
Metropolitan Police to constrain through nities for recreational/social interaction, eth-
planning, licensing and law enforcement, the nic and sexual tolerance and cultural
physical extent of the sex and porn industry diversity. This seems a neat encapsulation of
(Hubbard, 2004). Yet for this author, its the essential character of Soho Gay Village,
significant displacement by a large number since it resolutely presents itself as physi-
of gay service-sector enterprises could not cally gay space (even in the midst of munici-
credibly be argued to be the preferred end- pal disinterest), but also as part of an array of
game outcome of such a White middle-class leisure consumption options, for the benefit
heterosexual conspiracy. The essence of this of the wider urban liberal society of London
somewhat tortuous argument seems to be and not just its lesbians and gay men.
based on a view that the gay community
were tacitly allowed to serve as the means of
4. Towards a Simple Model of the Evol-
urban renaissance. Continuing in this con-
ution of Urban Gay Villages in England
spiratorial vein, they would serve to provide
revalorised and better-quality social and In Quilley (1997) a brief insight into gay life
commercial inner urban space, for the ulti- in Manchester before the Gay Village pref-
mate benefit of White heterosexual middle- aces a detailed politico-economic exposition
class society, who would eventually of its emergence in the 1980s. In the
reacquire such space (by dint of their power Brighton Ourstory Project (BOP) (2001) a
1800 ALAN COLLINS

more straightforward historical narrative is able criminal fraternity since at least the
unfolded. Yet what is clear is that, in com- interwar period. The latter was given the
mon with London, what really constituted the oxygen of publicity by the publication of
physical presence of pre-gay village life in Graham Greene’s 1938 novel and subsequent
these places were a small number of pubs film adaptation, Brighton Rock, which actu-
across the city. Brighton and Hove had gay ally further stimulated tourism demand
pubs known by the lesbian and gay (Fines 2002). Accordingly, as with Soho, all
cognoscenti, (including military personnel these characteristics help to paint a picture of
stationed at the local garrison and also the these locations being enmeshed to varying
naval port of Portsmouth along the coast) extents in a mist of sexual and legal liminal-
even in the 1930s (BOP 2001). Additionally ity, but discreetly and gradually presenting a
in Brighton, given its seaside holiday orien- more homosexually open presence. This was
tation, a wider gay-orientated service-sector done principally through the semi-public
base could be identified far earlier than in meeting venues provided by ‘pub’ environ-
most other English towns or cities. Even in ments. This marginal area/twilight character
pre-gay village days, a number of hotels or coupled with an initial pub focus is also
bed and breakfasts (BandBs) were known readily identifiable in the development of
through an informal network (functioning by several other such gay villages in England,
largely by word of mouth) to be places where including those in Birmingham and New-
lesbian and gay couples could stay with no castle.
‘awkward’ questions (BOP 2001). Yet none The reality of the decriminalisation of
of these enterprises was in a close physical homosexual activity between consenting
clustering—perhaps because this would be males in 1967 seemed to take some time to
more likely to draw attention to their then become established, with regard to the fuller
strictly illegal status in supporting homosex- range of commercial opportunities this would
ual activities and lifestyles. These enterprises allow. During the mid to late 1970s in parts
were thinly spread across Brighton and of London, and in Brighton, Manchester and
Hove, but included some premises within the Newcastle, small clusters of such pubs did
current Brighton gay village area of Kemp- emerge, although not necessarily fully visible
town, centred on St James Street (BOP, to mainstream society in these locations. It
2001). was within these clusters that the beginnings
Quilley (1997) also draws attention to the of a widening of the service-sector base
former status of the Canal Street environs, could eventually be discerned. Aside from
the centre of the Manchester Gay Village, as Brighton’s early ‘gay-friendly’ small hotels
a marginal area, featuring red-light activities and BandBs, there emerged from the mid–
and ‘skid row’ or renewal-needy characteris- late 1970s at all these locations a presence of
tics. Turning to Brighton, this south coast one or two gay nightclubs, possibly a gay
resort has long had echoes and associations sauna and, for some, a gay-orientated sex/
with sexual and legal liminality, even since clothing accessories store. Cafés, gay trades-
the Regency era. It was well known as a persons and professional practices explicitly
place for conducting illicit affairs and for its operating in the locale, typically followed in
extensive smuggling operations. A pioneer- the secondary wave of enterprises during the
ing early contribution to the image of sexual course of the 1980s and early 1990s and the
frisson and peccadilloes, connoted by week- drive to a readily identifiable gay village
ends in Brighton, was made by the Prince identity.
Regent who ‘kept’ a number of mistresses It is possible to note a key feature, apart
there (Barlow, 1997; Fines, 2002). Brighton from its ultimate scale, which does dis-
was also the home to a number of secret tinguish London’s Soho from most other En-
tunnels in the service of smuggling opera- glish gay villages. At no point during the
tions and had a reputation for hosting a size- course of its evolution was there any explicit
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1801

municipal support given to the formation of a ing agendas of the municipal urban left. He
gay village identity. This neglect or under- suggests that, from a policy centrepiece of
playing of its identity markedly contrasts resistance to Thatcherite policies, the idea of
with the situation in several other UK cities a gay village evolved to become harnessed
with gay villages (Manchester, Birmingham, explicitly within a property-led redevelop-
Brighton). Birmingham and Manchester both ment strategy. In such a strategy
have explicit project elements in their devel-
opment plans for what they explicitly refer to the aesthetic of the gay scene has become
as ‘the gay village’ including, land redevel- articulated into a wider re-imaging of the
opment, installation of CCTV to increase the city around the familiar theme of Eu-
sense of safety in this space, pedestrianisa- ropean style cafés, pedestrian streets, and
tion schemes and various other urban en- arcades, as well as around a central role
vironmental amenity improvements. for leisure and cultural activities (Quilley,
Newcastle has explicit references to investi- 1997, p. 275).
gating the development needs and potential Remarkably then, even in the absence of a
of ‘the gay village’ in its City Centre Action sympathetic or proactive municipal (politi-
Plan (Newcastle City Council, 2002a, p. 36) cal) advocate or patron, a similar physical
but has not hitherto fleshed out any detailed outcome could also be said to characterise
development plans featuring a gay village the contemporary commercial face of Lon-
identity. The rapid development towards don’s Soho Gay Village.
what is now a slightly more visible gay In distilling these experiences and
village (the ‘pink triangle’) in Newcastle, is findings, it seems reasonable to posit a sim-
thus, in large part, attributable to a proactive
ple developmental model of the evolution of
stance adopted by a small group of senior
urban gay villages in England. It is con-
members of its planning department and the
tended that the progression through these
relevant licensing magistrates. In the light of
stages may be accelerated by direct munici-
a real background political will to foster
pal support (planning and/or licensing) and
equality (as now formally enunciated in The
high amenity attributes in a location (follow-
Newcastle Plan—A Community Strategy for
the City (Newcastle City Council, 2002b), ing Black et al., 2002), but neither of these
these parties met in 1999 with a view to elements is considered to be a sufficient and
removing obstacles to a gay clustering of necessary condition. Of crucial importance,
service-sector establishments. The intention however, for a sustainable urban gay village
was primarily to improve the quality of so- is the eventual attainment of a gay critical
cial and recreational provision for a then mass population to serve as the customer
underprovided for, lesbian/gay population. base, within the travel-to-leisure area. Essen-
These problems were generated by an inad- tially, this developmental model describes a
equate number of liquor licences in the city. number of characteristic phases in the evol-
The alleviation of this specific constraint, by ution of an urban gay village as presented in
municipal and regulatory authorities, directly Table 2. Stage 1 describes the pre-conditions
facilitated and accelerated its expanding gay for an urban area typically apparent in a
service-sector base. Further, Manchester and number of eventual gay village locations.
Brighton also maintain a number of munici- The critical presence of licensed premises/
pal forums where lesbian and gay residents’ pubs for the evolution of English gay villages
issues can be discussed and they also feature is readily apparent in viewing the pro-
a significant number of ‘out’ lesbian and gay gression from stages 1 to 3. Clearly, an inad-
local councillors. equate stock of liquor licences or a
For Quilley, the very development process reluctance to issue supplementary licences
culminating in Manchester’s Gay Village could easily retard the pace of development
was also intimately bound up with the chang- to urban gay village status. Relatively few
1802 ALAN COLLINS

Table 2. Stages in the development of urban gay villages in England

Stage 1: ‘Pre-conditions’—urban area in decline: location of sexual and legal liminal activities and
behaviour
Key features
1. Twilight/marginal area showing extensive physical urban decay
2. Presence of street-based and/or near off-street (predominantly heterosexual) prostitution
3. Significant stock of vacant commercial premises
4. Low property prices/rental values
5. Typical presence of at least one gay licenced public house

Stage 2: ‘Emergence’—clustering of gay male social and recreational opportunities


Key features
1. Conversion of some other nearby licensed public houses into ‘gay run’ pubs
2. Increase in applications made for liquor licences to support conversion of some other existing
commercial premises into gay nightclub or additional licensed public houses
3. Upgrading or renovation of existing gay pub(s) in the area
4. Substantial increase in gay male customer base and pub revenue stream

Stage 3: ‘Expansion and diversification’—widening gay enterprise service-sector base


Key features
1. Conversion of some other existing commercial premises for gay service-sector enterprises: gay
health clubs/saunas, gay retail lifestyle accessory stores, gay café-bars
2. Further applications for liquor licences and planning permission for additional gay nightclubs
3. Increasing gay household density in the existing stock of residential units in the gay village locale
4. Increasing physical visibility and public awareness of the urban gay village to mainstream society
5. Growth of gay tradespersons and professional practices operating in or near the gay village, or
via its community media
6. Increasingly significant and sustained contribution to the gay service-sector enterprises’ revenue
streams from visiting gay tourists

Stage 4: ‘Integration’—assimilation into the fashionable mainstream


Key features
1. Increasing presence of heterosexual custom in ostensibly gay pubs/bars
2. Conversion of some existing commercial premises for new mainstream society service-sector
enterprises (bars, clubs, restaurants)
3. Influx of young urban professionals to the existing stock of residential units in the gay village
environs
4. Outflow and suburbanisation of early gay residential colonisers
5. Increasing applications and construction of new-build (apartment) residential units in the gay
village environs
6. Increasingly significant and sustained contribution to gay service-sector enterprises’ revenue
streams from the heterosexual community

such gay villages could currently be argued generated amongst them for lesbian/gay cus-
to have fully achieved progression through to tom and in terms of lesbian/gay residential
assimilation into the fashionable mainstream attractiveness. In such a situation, it is plaus-
as described in stage 4. One might include ible to envisage a situation where some urban
Manchester Gay Village, London’s Soho and gay villages will enter a declining phase and
arguably Kemptown, Brighton, in this cate- revert from villages back to lower-level dis-
gory, but this grouping seems likely to in- tricts or clusters. It may be that the result is
crease in number over time. a long-run equilibrium consisting of a rela-
Looking to the future, as new urban gay tively small group of large urban gay vil-
villages do emerge over time, it is possible lages, towards which lesbians and gay men
that, in market terms, real competition is gravitate (subject to income and job con-
SEXUAL DISSIDENCE, ENTERPRISE AND ASSIMILATION 1803

straints) and a larger number of smaller gay may evolve anyway, even in the face of
districts and clusters. municipal political ambivalence.

Notes
5. Concluding Remarks 1. Black et al. (2002) in part account for differ-
This paper has explored the generic concept ences between lesbian and gay male residen-
tial choice by virtue of the fact that they
of the urban gay village in England, in terms observe lesbian households are more likely
of the reasons for their location and their to have children, so that (they argue) many
evolutionary paths. A case study of the lesbians are more likely to prefer smaller
largest such urban gay village in England is towns.
presented and its characteristics and develop- 2. Albeit with some systematic error, to permit
identification of lesbian and gay households,
ment path considered. This is unfolded in the the 1990 US census long form asked ques-
light of the documented experiences of other tions which can reveal single never-married
significant English urban gay villages. De- households without children (by age and
spite differing experiences of municipal sup- gender) and explicit questions relating to
port for such entities, a recurrent model of same-sex unmarried partner status for other
residents in the home. It is this latter cate-
their development seems discernible. Typi- gory of ‘gay couples’ that Black et al. (2002)
cally from within a marginal or twilight area, focus on in their study. In the past, the US
a foothold, comprising the presence of one or census form only gave the choice of husband
more gay-run licensed premises (pubs), may and wife for partner status. From the individ-
attract additional pubs and eventually a wider ual and aggregate data in the 2001 UK cen-
sus, one can readily identify single
range of gay service-sector enterprises, ex- never-married households without children
ploiting the existence of adjacent or nearby by gender through various age-bands and
vacant and low-value space. same-sex households (i.e. not same-sex un-
Further economic case studies elsewhere, married partners). That said, this might be-
such as in other nascent urban gay villages in come possible, to some extent, with the soon
to be released household micro data from the
England and in other countries, might use- UK 2001 census. The current difference be-
fully be undertaken to confirm the validity tween the US and UK individual and aggre-
and level of generalisation possible with this gate census data generates, in
simple model. It may offer an initial analyti- statistical/econometric terms, some serious
cal framework, or can provide some broad- problems, since the definition of same-sex
households provides a very ‘noisy signal’
level insight, to inform local economic (and probably a substantial overestimate) of
development and planning strategy. It seems lesbian/gay household status. This is clearly
that the harnessing of the gay village concept the case because same-sex households need
in these domains is likely to be feasible, with not be lesbian or gay at all. Further, there are
a shorter and more definitive time-scale, also mixed sexual orientation households
which must go unrecognised (in fact, are
where there is a genuine willingness by mu- systematically completely neglected) in both
nicipal authorities to support lesbian and gay the US and UK census. In principle, it may
communities and where this is maintained be possible that future UK-based work could
alongside the practical desire to realise more corroborate the proportions (or at least pro-
swiftly their potential, in enhancing the com- vide a lower bound estimate) of lesbian/gay
households or partly lesbian/gay households,
mercial vitality and physical regeneration of from the UK Census cohort of same-sex
particular urban areas. The experience of households. This could be done by grossing
London’s Soho Gay Village shows, however, up the proportions from some other large-
given the appropriate favourable pre-condi- scale survey that actually does consider sex-
tions and the absence of actively repressive ual identity or preferences—for example, the
UK 2000–2001 National Survey of Sexual
constraints (for example, ample liquor li- Attitudes and Lifestyles soon to be available
cences, fair and objective assessments in from the ESRC Data Archive at the Univer-
planning permission requests) such entities sity of Essex, England.
1804 ALAN COLLINS

3. Author’s count from B1 Community (Issue mercial presence, orientation and customer
No. 1, May 2003)—a free news and listings base of the Soho Gay Village.
publication for the lesbian and gay com-
munity in Birmingham, England.
4. These include clusters based around
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